Who could imagine that the political prisoners on exile on the island would paint the walls of this small church at the edge of the Aegean? The small church is that of Agia Matrona-Kioura on Leros, named after the noble woman who left her home in order to become a nun.
The church has been characterised as a listed monument and was built in the 18th century, over the ruins of an older church. Between the years 1969 and 1970, during the military junta, it was painted by the political prisoners on exile on Leros. Among them there were MPs, Left wing political party executives, resistance fighters, intellectuals, artists, elderly people, and mothers with young children.
With such a special history, the paintings on the walls of the Matrona church were bound to be unique. They represent various saints, but also prisoners participating in the Passion of Christ. On these walls both Holy Mary and Greece are mourning together for their children. This is why Agia Matrona is considered “a unique monument of modern history representing the agony and deprivation of freedom the Greek people suffered during the dictatorship.”
Manolis Glezos (hero of the Greek resistance, and Greek Left-wing politician) had the idea of painting the walls, and his fellow prisoners, Antonis Karagiannis, Takis Tzaneteas and Kyriakos Tsakiris carried out the project.
But Matrona, the beloved Kioura (altered version of the word kyra that means lady) of the locals, has her own story. She was a noble woman from Chios island who lived about 600 years ago, and, according to religious tradition, instead of getting married, like her 6 sisters, who were sought after brides, decided to study the divine.
Her regular contact with nuns from nunneries on the island, made her want to become a nun to live a pure and hermetic life. After her first experiences at the nunnery, Maria, as was her name, was ordained and was renamed, Matrona, while during her years as nun she became mother superior before she passed away in 1462.
Inside the church of Agia Matrona-Kioura you can see her icon, said to have been painted in Chios her homeland.